Author Archives: Paul Zaich

Hypoxic Swimming Sample Sets

Hypoxic swimming is a technique used by swimmers to improve their tolerance of oxygen debt. While we haven’t discussed the topic much before, it is an important part of a swimmer’s training regimen. Mark discussed the use of a hypoxic # in freestyle sets a few months ago, so I’m going to talk about a few sample sets that will build your anaerobic capacity and improve the intensity of your workouts. The main goal with all of these sets is to use your body’s anaerobic energy systems. That means swimming at moderately high to high effort levels with limited breathing.

Sample Set #1 (moderate difficulty)

8×25 @ 60

Odds- Descend 1-4 Freestyle NO BREATH

Evens- Easy swimming


Use Zoomers® or Foil Monofin

Odds- Descend 1-4 Underwater Dolphin Kick NO BREATH

Evens- Easy swimming

Sample Set #2

4×100 @ 2:00 (or +:45 on your normal 100 interval)

#1 = 4 breaths each lap at 80% effort

#2 = 4/4/3/3 (breaths by 25) at 85% effort

#3 = 3/3/3/3 at 90% effort

#4 = 3/3/2/2 at 95% effort

Challenge Set (high difficulty)

10×50 LCM Underwater Dolphin Kick

No breath with Zoomers® or Foil Monofin @ 60

While you can specifically design a hypoxic training set, know that hypoxic work can also easily be weaved into your other parts of your workout. For example, you can limit the breathing you do on normal freestyle sets, or aim to go farther on your underwater breakouts off each wall. By challenging yourself hypoxically you will ultimately improve your swimming “engine”. You will be able to maximize your power and speed in the water.

- Paul


Why are swimmers so clumsy out of water?

I think most swimmers accept the claim that they are not as gifted out of water. Most of us swimmers feel somewhat uncomfortable or uncoordinated with physical activity that occurs outside the pool.

The very fact that we call our out of pool workouts “dryland” suggests our discomfort with the idea of being outside our native aquatic element. We don’t call it circuit training, core training, crossfit, or any of the other terms out there. Instead we dub the term “dryland” for its obvious lack of water.

So why are swimmers typically “fish out of water” when we are outside the pool? Is swimming simply appealing to those of us who are naturally clumsy in other sports? Possibly, but from my personal experience, I think swimming itself contributes to our woes outside the water.

Swimming uses a very different muscle set and requires distinctive flexibility as compared to any land activity. During my own competitive career, I found myself tripping over my ankles constantly. In fact, I often would bend my ankles in ways that would sprain a normal person’s ankles. Now 2 years out from my last competitive competition, I hardly find my ankles giving out from under me. So what was going on with my ankles? My ankles had become very flexible as a result of swimming. Breaststroke was my primary stroke and it helped me substantially to improve the flexibility of my ankles. Every time I finished my breaststroke kick by touching my heels together, I was working on improving my ankle flexibility. But it turns out that this also made me that much more clumsy outside the water.

This is just one experience, but I think it illustrates why swimmers tend to not always be the most coordinated athletes out of the water. A swimmer’s body ultimately develops for peak performance in the water, which can sometimes create a little bit of clumsiness while on land.



For the Aspiring Fitness Swimmer: 3 Easy Ways to Start Swimming Smarter (and having A LOT more fun!)

Do you dread every time you get to the pool because you know that you will swim 40 laps, back and forth, staring directly down at the dreaded black line? Does it feel like you reached a plateau where you simply can’t improve any further in your swimming? If this is you, I’d like to give you a couple of tips that are sure to help break up the monotony! And it’s sure to help you improve your swimming at the same time. Too easy, right?

Step 1: Start Counting Your Laps in Between Rests

Simple enough right? If you stop on the wall between lap 4 and lap 8, you just swam 4 laps and thus 100 yds (in a 25 yd pool). Instead of counting your total distance, start looking at how often you stop on the wall. Swim normally during one of your sessions and try to keep track of how many times you stop. From there you can work on swimming specific distances. If your goal is to swim 80 laps in each swim, why not try swimming 10×8 laps (or 200s)? Or maybe try 5×200 and 10×100. Notice how your body reacts to the different amounts of rest.

Step 2: Keep Track of Your Times

The next big step is to start keeping track of your times as you swim one of these predetermined distances. This gives you the ability to gauge your improvement. How do you find your time? Most pools have pace clocks installed which will show seconds and minutes. Try getting your times on similar distances across a couple of weeks and you will now be able to assess how well you are swimming. I guarantee that you will see yourself improving as you try to beat your previous personal best!

Step 3: Fartlek Workouts for Swimming

Fartlek “speed play” is the revolutionary training system developed for running in the 1930s that was applied to swimming in the 1960s, with tremendous results. It focuses around putting stress on the aerobic energy system by varying the speed and intensity throughout the workout. This means in simpler terms, that you will go fast in certain parts of your swim and you will go easier in other parts. Most of the swim workouts you now see are designed around this concept, but it can be a lot simpler than that. Try swimming the first part of your workout easy to warmup. Then try swimming some faster shorter distances, pushing yourself to swim harder than your typical effort level. Make sure to take extra rest in between each of these shorter intervals. Despite the extra rest, you will notice that you are in fact breathing harder and getting a better overall workout.


Photo CC: Swimmer, Cadiz, Spain 2003 by Dr John2005, on Flickr


Guess Who’s Coming to the FINIS Collegiate Invitational?!

FINIS has arranged a surprise visitor this weekend. Shake hands with the greatest Olympic Relay swimmer of all-time at the FINIS Cup. Can you guess who it is? We’ll give you a hint, just check out the image below. Comment below, tweet us @FINISswim with #finiscup, or comment on Facebook!

What: FINIS Collegiate Invitational
Where: Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, Long Beach CA
When:  Sunday 9:15 AM

Talk to FINIS Vice President, Tim Elson, and watch the annual winter collegiate invite, the FINIS Cup, featuring Pepperdine, Cal Baptist, Cal Lutheran, and UC Santa Cruz among others.


Sculling Drills help improve your technique and feel in the water

Mark and I often cite improving stroke technique in swimming as being the single easiest and quickest way to see improvement. One of the best ways to begin improving your stroke technique is to improve your body awareness and especially your awareness of your hands. Sculling is a type of drill in which the arms and hands engage in a sweeping motion, applying pressure to the water. There are many types of sculling and each type replicates a sweeping motion of one of the four stroke types. In the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the different types of sculling and how they can be used to improve your stroke technique. Let’s get started!

This week features the Middle Sculling Drill. As you can see from the video, to perform this drill correctly, you should keep your elbows high and sweep your arms in a lateral motion not unlike a “wind-shield wiper” sweep. You should feel your forearms and hand applying a slight pressure behind you on the water. Use this sculling drill to work on the in sweep of butterfly and breaststroke. The drill also can help you establish better “feel” in freestyle. Note that we used FINIS finger sculling paddles so that we would be able to have an additional “feel” during the drill.



Learn how to split your races: 100 Breaststroke

In conclusion of our examination of race splitting and pacing techniques we will examine the 100 breaststroke at Nationals. As you can see, like the 100 Butterfly, the other short-axis stroke, we seem to see closer splitting by the male athletes. I have included an column that takes Jessica Hardy out of the data due to the unusual splitting she had during that particular race (a 7.2 second drop off!).

The most interesting thing about this information is that breaststroke has a significantly greater drop off than any of the other three strokes!

As you can quickly see, the drop offs are much higher than any other stroke. I think this happens for two reasons:

  1. Breaststroke is a much slower stroke and thus its drop off between 50’s will be more impacted on the first lap by having a start off of the starting blocks.
  2. Breaststroke, like fly is a less efficient stroke than the long-axis strokes, which creates a higher drop off between the 50’s.

This still does not explain why men and women split races the so differently in the short-axis and long-axis strokes. Ultimately, it must come down to the differences in physiology.



Learn how to Split Your Races: 100 Freestyle at 2010 Nationals

The 100m Freestyle provides another example of a race where women tend to split the race more evenly when compared to men (See also 100m Backstroke vs. 100m Butterfly). Although both men and women tend to have a similar race strategy over a 100m sprint, the different body physique and the different dynamics of the stroke likely leads to different drop-off splits.

As was noted by Mark in the comments of my last post, one reason for the more even splitting of the 100 Backstroke has to do with the start of the race. A Backstroke start gives less speed when compared to a dive start off the blocks. So there is less of an advantage in the first 50m of the race due to the start. As a result, the average drop-off times will be smaller. However, the start does not explain why men tend to have a larger drop-off than women in the 100m Backstroke, yet a smaller comparative drop-off in the 100m butterfly.

In the 100m Freestyle, we return to the same trend that we saw in the 100m Backstroke. Men tend to have a slower second 50 in the 100m Freestyle than do women at the elite level. It is also worth noting that the average drop-off time for both men and women in the Freestyle is higher than Backstroke and significantly lower than Butterfly.

I believe that Freestyle has a larger average drop-off time when compared to Backstroke because of the dive start. The dive allows the athlete to have more speed on the first 50 when compared to a slower Backstroke start.

I think that Freestyle has a smaller average drop-off time compared to Butterfly because of the overall efficiency of the Freestyle stroke. These elite level athletes are maintaining better technique, power, and energy in their Freestyle stroke, allowing them to more evenly split the 100m Freestyle race when compared to the 100m Butterfly.

Still to be explained: Why do women split the long-axis strokes (Freestyle and Backstroke) more evenly than men, but men split the short-axis strokes (or at least the 100m butterfly) more evenly than women?


Learn How to Split your Races Correctly: Featuring the 100 Butterfly

Take a look at the average drop-off for the top male and female athletes in the 100 Butterfly. Now take a look at the 100 Backstroke drop-off from last week. At this point you have probably realized that the average drop-off for each of these races is very different!

Splitting your races correctly will vary significantly depending on the stroke that you are swimming. At this point it is good to point that splitting is very different from pacing. Splitting refers to how fast or how slow the swimmer swims different parts of the race. When you talk about pacing, you should be much more focused on effort levels and energy exerted than split times.

As evidenced by the 100 Butterfly and 100 Backstroke splitting, correct pacing can yield very different splits depending on the stroke. Generally, a similar style of pacing can be used for both the 100 Backstroke and the 100 Butterfly despite the significant drop-off differences between these two events.

Start your 100 meter/yard races out at 95% effort. Focus on long, strong and smooth strokes for the first 25 yards of your race. You already have significant speed from your start, so stay loose and use this momentum to power you through the first part of the race. In the next 25, build your rate or tempo slightly, but resist the urge to increase your rate to the point that you feel  like you are “spinning” in the water. Use this 25 to “build” your momentum so that when you hit the wall and start on the final 50 of the race, you have built to your 100% maximum effort.

Perfect pacing starts with total awareness of your body’s capabilities, which only comes after years of testing the limits in practice and races. So don’t expect to get it perfectly the first time you race! Everyone is different, so you may need to adjust this race style for your own racing style and ability.



Learn how to Split your Races Correctly

Learning how to correctly pace your effort level throughout a race is one of the most important elements of any race strategy. Whether it is a 100m sprint or a much longer marathon race like Crossing Lake Tahoe, controlling your energy is vital. Coaches often give their athletes effort levels to try to swim at during different phases of their race in order to pace correctly. But can we dig a little deeper and see some numbers about how the top athletes out there are typically pacing their races?

One excellent place to look for information is at elite level competitions like USA Nationals. Today we will examine the top 8 male and top 8 female swimmers in the 100m backstroke at the most recent Nationals in Irvine.

If you average their difference between their first lap of 50m and their second lap of 50m, you find that most of these elite swimmers naturally pace their races quite similarly. As you can see from the chart, men tend to go about 1.8 seconds slower on their second 50 while, women drop-off two tenths less at 1.6 seconds. A drop-off time in this 1-2 second range indicates to me that the swimmers are not significantly slower on the second 50, and that much of their time difference is coming from the start at the beginning of their race.

In the coming weeks we’ll examine some of the other sprint 100m races at the most recent 2010 USA Nationals, and I will compare the optimal drop-off time between different strokes.